I tried a couple of new places in Logan Square during the past month (new for me, that is) and was overwhelmingly underwhelmed at each.
First, Dharma Garden (3109 W. Irving Park). This place has had a lot of positive press and the concept (healthy, vegetarian/seafood only Thai food) is appealing. But every dish was off. First, we tried steamed potstickers. Simple enough - but they arrived in an oilslick. Oil (from the fried garlic?) had literally been poured over them to form pools on the surface of the dumplings and on the plate. I ordered them STEAMED to cut down on the fat in the first place, so they were particularly unappealing. The filling had pulled away from the dough, leaving them empty-seeming, and we didn't get the sauce until halfway through the dumplings.
The corn cakes (highly touted in the reviews from the Reader posted in the entryway) were deep-fried vegetable cakes that tasted fine, but not delicious. A little salad came with them, though I would have preferred some sort of chili sauce.
The som tum was bland and came in a small serving. It's made without fish sauce (for health reasons, according to the philosophy of the chef), which reduces the complexity of flavors, and it lacked something else to make up for that absence. It also lacked heat, though we ordered it spicy (as did all the dishes, even though there are little "bombs" on the menu to indicate that they serve things fiery-hot). Sticky rice (just one small bowl, though we ordered two servings) had dried out and formed a crust.
We also tried the red snapper salad. I am sorry I can't recall its name, but it is prepared like a larb, with rice powder and chiles and peanuts and onions. It tasted like tinned tuna - very fishy. My friend hated this dish and said it tasted and smelled like cat food.
For an entree, we tried the steamed salmon (fine) served with overcooked vegetables. Red jasmine rice came with it.
Service started out mediocre (a young man who seemed indifferent-verging-on-hostile and forget the sauces) but was excellent when the owner herself took over (after expressing impatience with the young man).
I wouldn't go back. There are plenty of places to get better Thai food. I guess the vegetarian angle is appealing for those who worry about fish sauce being introduced into their vegetarian entrees at other Thai places, but this place does serve a lot of fish dishes, so why not use fish sauce? Fish sauce is important for Thai food and when you eat Thai without it, you really notice that something's missing. What is so unhealthy about fish sauce? Is it better to eat an oil slick than fish sauce?
The prices are high compared to other favorite Thai places, where I usually share 4-5 dishes for just under $30. The bill was $48 with tax and tip (and it's BYO, by the way).
Won't go back.
Now on to Friendship Chinese Restaurant (2830 N. Milwaukee). It's a very pretty setting, but don't waste your time. Go directly to Chinatown. It really isn't that far once you get on the expressway. I'll only comment on one dish at Friendship, as I've shut the others out of my memory. A noodle salad with peanut sauce. The noodles were so sticky and gelatinous that they came off the plate in one great glob, greased liberally with a Peter Pan-like emulsion. There was no way to serve it except to bite into the glob face-first. Everything else was equally gloppy. I remember some positive reviews of Friendship on Chowhound, but I can't find them now. Perhaps I just ordered the wrong things, but after that meal, I had to visit Chinatown the next night or so to remove it from my taste memory altogether. A nice steamer of soup dumplings and a big plate of rice cake with pork and pickle helped a lot.
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